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Earthy thoughts

April 20, 2013

Because I have been lucky enough to have had a ringside seat at the genesis and evolution of the new St Giles Café, several interested, but less directly involved parties have asked me to define the intrinsic nature of what will make this enterprise special – and most importantly, different, from so much else that is on offer in Oxford.

Increasingly there are some wonderful cafes and restaurants in and around our city offering food which is freshly made, from seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients – Turl Street Kitchen and Oxforks, to name but two. So if, I asked St Giles’ Cafe, you had to come up with one word that would define the nature of your cooking, what would it be?

Earthy. This is the word they put forward to encapsulate the nature of their food. And I can testify, having acted as culinary guinea pig for many of the dishes that will appear on the menu, that this word is entirely apt. But early one morning recently I lay awake wondering what it is about the food, and about this word, that makes it so apposite. What are the connotations of the word earthy, and what does it conjure up, in the mouth and in the mind?

Perhaps not surprisingly, I thought at first of the very literal associations with the earth, the actual soil that is the source – either directly or indirectly – of so much of our food. My early-morning, rose-tinted musings led me to nostalgic images of ruddy-faced, besmocked labourers in Merrie England, to maidens with wooden trugs held in the crook of their arm, piled abundantly with muddy-rooted vegetables, to Beatrix Potter farmyards and to chickens roaming over pungent haystacks. And then to the present day and to our community, and the enormous pleasure I derive, every time we walk our Port Meadow circuit, from admiring the many and apparently such abundant allotments along the route, from Wolvercote Common, past Traps Ground and Cripley Meadow and back through town past Osney St Thomas – the earth of Oxford is yielding up its riches. Extensions of this are the community horticulture organizations like @cultivateoxford and their wonderful Veg Van, bringing us produce from the earth only just outside Oxford.

st g earthy

And what else does the word imply, beyond the literal? For me, it says both unadorned and unashamed, true to itself. In relation to food, then, it is about letting deep flavours emerge and speak for themselves unapologetically, without the need for fancy embellishments. A home-made pork sausage, with lemon zest, nutmeg and Winter Savoury, needs no further enhancements.

And finally, by extension, earthy brings to my mind the sense of repletion and satiety. What more could we want?

Posted by Jo.


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One Comment
  1. Bravo Baz! so excited for you that your dream is coming true…get digging, sorry, cooking

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